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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Baltic 'Cleansing' Feeds Fascism, Kozyrev Says

NEW YORK -- The West must protest "ethnic cleansing" in the Baltic states or risk fueling the rise of fascists in Russia, Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said in an interview with Newsweek's international edition.

"In Latvia, they're trying to deport thousands of people to Russia. I call it ethnic cleansing," he said. "Violation of human rights on ethnic grounds gives the Russian nationalists unbelievable ground to attack the democratic government of Russia."

Ties between the nations were strained last month over the detention of two Russian generals and the blockading of four Russian military installations.

Russia's links with the Baltic states are complicated by large Russian minorities, many settled after the 1940 incorporation of the region into the Soviet Union. Moscow also accused Latvia of denying voting rights to ethnic Russians.

In the interview due on newsstands Monday, Kozyrev accused Western nations of keeping silent on the situation of ethnic Russians in Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, the three Baltic states that regained their independence in 1991.

Kozyrev said the West played into the hands of Zhirinovsky, whose Liberal Democratic Party won nearly a quarter of the vote in Russia's December vote.

"We must address this issue, because otherwise we will feed the real monster ... the Nazis, the fascists in Russia."

Kozyrev said the threats to Russians in Latvia and other Baltic states justified keeping Russian troops in these countries despite pledges to withdraw them.

Deputy Foreign Minister Vitaly Churkin said last month Russia had between 3,000 and 4,000 troops in Estonia and Latvia, compared to 116,000 in March 1992. But estimates by the Baltic governments put the military presence on their soil at 20,000 soldiers.

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher said last Monday he was sure Russia would soon withdraw all its troops from the Baltic republics.